There's little doubt that in the last decade the pressures of going to university have become greater. Once upon a time, it meant three years of getting drunk, waving placards and joining daft societies. These days though, with university costing students in excess of £30,000 and with increasing graduate unemployment, students are aware that they need to not only get a degree and squeeze some fun into their three years but also work hard to improve their employability.
With all that in mind it's surprising then that some students still ask why they should bother with a placement or internship. We asked some employers and placement officers to say why they think placements and internships are now an essential part of the university experience.
- It improves your employability
The bottom line is that for many employers work experience is more important than a degree. After years of being brainwashed into thinking that a good degree will have employers throwing themselves at you, a higher number of graduates means the value of a degree has decreased, so employers need something extra.
"In many cases a placement is the one thing that will set you apart from your peers and that can be the difference in getting you the job at the end of your degree", says Donna Miller, graduate recruitment manager from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. "My advice is that you will find it hard to get graduate employment if you have had no work experience. I would much rather see someone who has a 2:2 and has work experience than someone who didn't have time for anything else.
"Some students just concentrate on getting a 2:1 at university and think they'll be able to walk into a job at the end and that's not true", says John Morewood, senior graduate recruitment manager at HSBC. "A 2:1 or 2:2 is a key to a door. What are really important are the interpersonal skills you display and what you are getting from a placement is experience and an ability to acquire those skills that are so essential."
- It gives you a great chance to develop your skills
The stereotype of the work experience student making cups of tea won't apply to you as long as you make sure you apply for properly organised placements and internships and approach them correctly.
Most employers use internships and placements to make the most of your specialised degree skills. Specialised programmes like Shell STEP are built around you undertaking a high-level project. So, approach your placement or internship right and you're more likely to be co-ordinating a marketing campaign or using your technical knowledge than photocopying.
- It is essential research for what a career is really like
You can read all the recruitment brochures and listen to as many company presentations as you want, but until you've actually spent time working in a company and doing a job, it's impossible to know whether you'll like a particular career or not.
"I think the jargon is try before you buy", says Richard Hough, from law firm Allen & Overy. "One of the most useful things about placements is for students to make sure it's a profession they want to embrace. To demystify the profession you need to go to the source and find out for yourself."
If you are currently undertaking your career research and want a first-hand account of what it's like to actually do a placement or internship within a particular company then look no further than the thousands of reviews on www.ratemyplacement.co.uk. These cover every company and industry you can think of and give you an important insight into what it's like beyond the glossy recruitment brochure.
- It Is Your Best Chance To Build A Network
There's a cliché that "it's not what you know, it's who you know" and developing a successful network of contacts is a vital step in finding your way into some of the most competitive industries. Placements and internships are a way of getting your foot in the door and beginning to meet the people who can shape your career.
"A network is really useful and often essential, particularly in competitive fields like media or law," says Sue Johnstone, Work Experience Project Manager at The University of Warwick. "When you do a work placement you start to build up the contacts of various people and you learn who you need to contact in future. Networking is about getting yourself known in the marketplace, getting references and being able to pull on contacts' help in the future."